Healthy Living in the North

Creating a smoke-free community

This article was co-written by Nancy Viney (tobacco reduction, Northern Health), Rhya Hartley (City of Quesnel), and the Quesnel Healthier Community Committee. It was originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of Healthier You magazine.

Poster with information about bylaw 1767

The new smoke-free bylaw was promoted through the City’s Bylaw of the Month campaign.

The City of Quesnel promotes a healthy environment for all to enjoy. In November 2015, Quesnel City Council adopted Bylaw No. 1767 “A Bylaw to Regulate Smoking in City of Quesnel Public Spaces,” which prohibits smoking in some specific community spaces as well as designated playgrounds and playing fields where children may be at play.

Quesnel joined 59 other municipalities in B.C. who have a bylaw limiting where you can use tobacco in outdoor spaces. Although many municipalities have implemented smoking regulations, Quesnel and Dawson Creek are leaders in the north.

Why a bylaw to regulate smoking?

Quesnel supports healthy community initiatives for its residents! Through integrated processes like parks planning, active transportation planning, the recently adopted Living Wage Policy, and our active rebranding project, the City of Quesnel is positioning itself as a balanced, healthy community in which to live, work, and play. The new smoke-free bylaw and the work supported by the Partnering for Healthier Communities grant fits into this approach.

Exposure to second-hand smoke from burning tobacco products causes disease and premature death among non-smokers. Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke as they breathe faster and are exposed to even more smoke. The new bylaw reduces the harmful effects of tobacco smoke for the residents and visitors of Quesnel.

Supportive smoke-free environments help people who have quit using tobacco to remain steadfast and also encourage tobacco users to quit. Education today on the harmful effects of smoking and second-hand smoke is key to ensuring our children don’t start smoking and helps to make everyone aware of our environment.

The bylaw also helps reduce the amount of litter from butts and discarded cigarette packaging. Cigarette filters litter the ground and do not biodegrade. During the hot, dry summer months, smoke-free bylaws can also reduce the risk of fire from discarded matches and tobacco products.

Sign reading: "Healthy lungs at play"As with any new initiative, there has been some push back and enforcement issues. To date, bylaw staff in Quesnel have addressed this with education and they will be transitioning to ticketing.

The City of Quesnel partnered with Northern Health and many other community stakeholders to form the Quesnel Healthier Community Committee in 2012. In 2016, this committee received a Partnering for Healthier Communities grant from Northern Health for their “Creating a Tobacco-Free Community” initiative. The committee resolved to use the grant funding for education and to purchase and install signage in strategic public areas. The committee decided that a sign that portrayed those most at risk from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke would move the focus to social conscience.

Have questions about smoke- and vape-free outdoor public places? Learn more from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Does your local government have a Healthier Community Committee? How can your local government work with partners towards your community’s healthy living goals?

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.


Bringing out the best: Breastfeeding, the World Health Organization and Quesnel

Mothers seated on couch breastfeeding infants.

Breastfeeding moms and babies at Quesnel Quintessence Breastfeeding Challenge in October 2015.

Living in one of northern B.C.’s smaller communities, you may not expect to be able to access globally-recognized, high quality training opportunities for free, right on your own doorstep. Yet this is exactly what a very successful initiative in Quesnel has been able to do.

The Baby Friendly Advisory Committee (BFAC) worked to successfully increase rates of initiation for breastfeeding at GR Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel. They recently widened their focus to increasing breastfeeding duration support in the community.

Benefits of breastfeeding

The benefits of breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of life are well researched, with numerous health benefits for mother and baby. The goal is to increase the number of babies who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life (as recommended by Health Canada). Exclusive means that they receive nothing but breast milk until they are six months old (i.e., no solid foods, no water or breast milk substitutes) unless it is medically necessary. In order to meet this goal, the Baby Friendly Advisory Committee felt it was important to engage the community to support breastfeeding mothers. So, in November 2015, they offered a three day training using the World Health Organization breastfeeding course –a required course for every maternity nurse.

Breastfeeding course

The three day course was held at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre –a child-friendly space. “The room had couches and tables and a kitchen for the participants – which included five breastfeeding moms as well as eight interested service providers,” says Bev Barr, Pregnancy Outreach Program Coordinator and BFAC co-chair, who was tasked with coordinating this initiative. “It was originally planned for April but we decided to postpone until November and commit to advertising and promotion.”

The group was determined to address potential barriers that are unique to breastfeeding moms. The final plan, in order to make the training accessible, included making the course free, choosing a location with free parking, making sure healthy lunches and refreshments were provided and – of most importance – ensuring child care arrangements for breastfeeding moms were in place. As a result, the final group included five breastfeeding moms among the attendees. “We all learned about breastfeeding while holding babies.”

“We had no idea how this would go,” says Bev, “and I was incredibly overwhelmed at how positive the response was, especially during that first day because of the high level of technical information. That day is very medically-focused, covering the physiology of breastfeeding, the nutritional composition of breast milk, and the health benefits to mother and baby. The next two days look at more practical issues and problem solving. The participants loved it all! At the end of the first day, they were talking about how much they hadn’t known and how much more they wanted to know.”

“What we have now is a well-informed and knowledgeable cohort who can support success in initiation and duration of exclusive breastfeeding in the community. Already we have heard three service providers say they are using the information in every visit. The course, in some ways, is bringing back networks of breastfeeding support that used to exist in many families and communities. It’s vital we have this capacity and knowledge in the community.”

Breastfeeding mother

Breastfeeding course participant Dawn Giesbrecht feeds baby Oliver.

Population health approach

It strikes me, as I reflect on my conversation with Bev, that this small, impactful project exemplifies some of the most important principles of Northern Health’s population health approach. The population health approach argues we need to get “upstream” on the river of diseases and causes of poor health in northern B.C. That is, addressing risk factors before they cause ill health is preferable to treating symptoms later on.

What are the principles shown by the BFAC project?

Do it right, not fast was obvious in the decision to wait and build readiness and interest in the audience group. Share what you have to offer and let the group do the work was evident in the willingness to offer a top-flight training opportunity and trust the group to rise to the occasion.

Understanding and addressing the specific barriers to participation that are unique to the group is also key. In this case, providing food, free parking, comfy chairs and a willingness to have babies in the room addressed a set of barriers that can exclude nursing mothers. Capitalizing on the passion and knowledge professionals can bring was also prominent in this work.

Partnership and collaboration were integral. In Quesnel, Northern Health was present in the room with professional expertise and insights and with concrete supports that addressed barriers to participation. At same time, Northern Health was sitting alongside its community members, learning with the community. Learning together is a way to build strong relationships and new connections that strengthen capacity to address issues of local importance.

Underscoring this, of course, is the passionate commitment of the working group who have dedicated years of service to supporting breastfeeding best practices in Quesnel. The BFAC is collaborative and includes representation from a number of individuals and groups. These torchbearers have lit a fire under the participants. The only request of participants was that they would commit to sharing their new knowledge and implement it in their own personal and professional circles. Many are now inspired and seeking additional training because of this opportunity.

The enthusiastic response of the participants to the training and their willingness to work with the new knowledge has given Quesnel a new and strong cadre of breastfeeding champions. The project also points the way to success. In a quiet and unassuming way, Northern Health professionals showed that partnership and population health are important parts of the good work in and by community to improve the health of northerners.

  • Do you have a breastfeeding story or experience to share? Tell us what breastfeeding means to you, your family, and your community by entering Northern Health’s World Breastfeeding Week contest before October 7!
  • This work was supported in part by an IMAGINE Community Grant. IMAGINE grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities.
  • Read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.
  • This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story in the Spring 2016 issue:

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.


Building spaces where everyone can play


Healthy community projects don’t happen overnight. Quesnel’s first accessible playground – with a grand opening scheduled for September 15, 2016 – provides a blueprint for success.

Brooke and MacKenzie are twin sisters who cannot play together at Quesnel’s playgrounds. While MacKenzie scampers up and down stairs and slides, Brooke’s chase stops the moment her wheelchair gets stuck in the pea gravel. To help the girls play together, Brooke’s parents carry her around the playground.

Brooke and MacKenzie’s situation is hardly unique, and neither is the fact that Quesnel didn’t, until recently, have any accessible playgrounds. Chances are the playground closest to you has pea gravel, steps, ladders, and other features that make it difficult for kids and adults alike to enjoy. Because it’s not just Brooke and MacKenzie who can’t play together. It’s the family with the baby stroller that can’t roll through the gravel to watch their toddler go down the slide; it’s the grandparents with walkers who are left watching grandkids from afar when a ledge gets in the way; it’s the children with leg braces who can only look on as their friends race over traditionally uneven surfaces.

But this is all about to change in Quesnel and, as it turns out, the answer to the question, “how can Brooke and MacKenzie play together?” provides a valuable blueprint of how a healthy community project can take shape in your town.

Two people assembling playground equipment.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground was a project four years in the making for Sandy Meidlinger (right), who was involved in the project team that made it happen.

Fresh from the excitement of a long-awaited playground build event on May 28, 2016, I chatted with Sandy Meidlinger with the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre, who tells the story from here:

This project started in 2012 when Brooke and MacKenzie’s mom came to me and asked for help to get an accessible playground built in Quesnel. I’m a member of the Parent Child Resource Team (a group of service providers and parents) and we agreed this would be a valuable long-term project for us to take on. Having a team was crucial! Our committee included parents, health care professionals, local agencies, government and school district representatives, and others.

When we asked community members for letters of support for this project, the response was overwhelming! Why? Until now, there was no playground in Quesnel accessible to people with mobility needs. I’m talking baby strollers, walkers, leg braces, scooters, and more. In Quesnel alone, there are over 100 children who, because of complex developmental profiles, can’t participate in many play activities on typical playgrounds. These kids are cut off from a typical family activity of playing at the park. An accessible playground increases physical activity levels for everyone, promotes inclusive family enjoyment, and helps children with mobility issues develop independence.

Volunteers assembling playground

On the day of the build, 25 volunteers and professionals came together to assemble the park.

Our first step was to present to the City of Quesnel and Cariboo Regional District joint planning committee. Both groups agreed in principle to support the idea. Connecting with government early was key to getting support for things later in the process like ongoing playground inspection and maintenance. There’s a wonderful legacy component to this project, too, as the city has committed to incorporating accessible aspects into all future park updates.

With government support in place, we looked for a location. The Quesnel & District Arts & Recreation Centre had an old playground in disrepair so we asked about making this the site of the new playground. The Centre and their governing bodies were on board! This location was ideal because it’s central and on a bus route; the Centre will be using the playground daily for inclusive programs; and they offer accessible parking, doors, and washrooms.

Levelling rubber surface.

The recycled rubber surface replaced pea gravel, which is difficult to use for those with mobility needs.

The next step was to research playground developers. We settled on Habitat Systems. They took our ideas and created a design. We then asked therapists, play specialists, parents, and children about the plan; Habitat tweaked the design. The final proposal was about more than just mobility – there are sensory toys, considerations for visual impairments, and other equipment for integrated, inclusive play.

We then started the long and sometimes frustrating work of fundraising. We wrote lots of grant proposals; I presented to local agencies; we wrote letters to local businesses; and we all chatted with anyone interested in accessibility. Our generous community really stepped up! We managed to fundraise over $200,000!

We finally got to the day of the build. About 25 volunteers and professionals spent 13 hours assembling the park. The recycled rubber surface was poured the following week. The park is open for use this summer and our grand opening is scheduled for September 15!

It’s hard to believe that it took four years but MacKenzie and Brooke – and hundreds of other Quesnel residents – are now able to play together! We now have a space where everyone can play.

The Quesnel Accessible Playground is still fundraising for its last few pieces. To support this project with a tax-deductible donation, contact Sandy Meidlinger at the Quesnel & District Child Development Centre: 250-992-2481,

For project photos and a list of donors, visit the Quesnel Accessible Playground on Facebook.

This article first appeared in Healthier You magazine. Find the original story and lots of other information about accessibility in the Fall 2016 issue:


Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)


IMAGINE grant: CHAAPS Summer Camps

Two horses with riders in riding arena.

The Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS) gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with all sorts of health benefits!

If the bond between rider and horse is understood anywhere in northern B.C., Quesnel is certainly a top candidate. Host of the Quesnel Rodeo – one of the largest annual rodeos in Western Canada – the town is also home to events by the Cariboo Hoofbeats Assisted Activity Program Society (CHAAPS), a group that highlights the same relationship you’d see at the rodeo, but with slightly less fanfare and a very different purpose. CHAAPS gives people living with mental and physical disabilities the chance to interact with horses, providing participants with:

  • Physical and mental exercise and stimulation in a safe and secure environment
  • Education and hands-on experience handling an animal
  • Emotional well-being

It also offers the bond mentioned above. “The companionship of animals decreases loneliness and stimulates conversation,” said Angela Mezzatesta, program director with CHAAPS, “By encouraging touch and giving program participants a responsive animal to work with, interaction with them motivates physical reactions that are very necessary and important in humans. Many times, animals give attention to a person who otherwise might not receive as much. They stimulate exercise, encourage laughter, and facilitate social contact. These benefits add up to an improved sense of well-being.”

Two girls grooming a horse with support from adult.

CHAAPS is making a difference in the community! What types of initiatives support healthy communities where you live?

A recipient of a 2014 IMAGINE grant, CHAAPS operates on a shoestring budget, providing a series of summer camps as well as daily riding sessions to its participants. Regardless of budget, the program is clearly making a difference in the community, one person at a time. “The program helped an 8 year old girl develop patience, build empathy and awareness, and care for others,” said Angela, “Her mother says she’s seen her daughter grow from coming to CHAAPS, telling us:

She sits – this is hard for her – on this horse and is in control of this big thing. It’s living so she can feel it breathing. She has to concentrate her attention – which is very short – and she does this when she is riding. We haven’t been able to get her to do this in other settings. This improves her focusing ability, which is one of our goals. By coming here, she’s learned to be gentle and take care of animals, not scare them. Attending the program has helped her to settle down and be more mindful of living creatures and this is now transferring to others who are around her.

Woman in wheelchair petting a horse.

CHAAPS has been making a difference through therapeutic riding programs in Quesnel since 2008.

Helping people in Quesnel since 2008, CHAAPS is a certified member of the Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association (CanTRA), a registered charity that promotes challenge, achievement, and empowerment for children and adults with disabilities through the use of horses. CanTRA also provides education and instructor certification and offers accreditation to therapeutic riding centres. Additionally, CHAAPS is a member of the BC Therapeutic Riding Association (BCTRA) and the Horse Council of BC (HCBC).

About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Advisor – HR at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.


Community Health Stars: Peter Nielsen

One of the neatest things about the Community Health Stars program has been the range of amazing activities that residents of northern B.C. take on to make their communities healthier places to live, work, and play. From promoting healthy eating in Terrace schools to walking around the world in Valemount, Community Health Stars represent a wide range of passions, communities, and activities.

As a resident of Quesnel deeply committed to helping seniors, Northern Health’s Community Health Star for the month of March adds to this outstanding variety! In addition, the issues that this month’s Community Health Star works on have a lot in common with the key findings of Northern Health’s 2013 community consultation, Let’s talk about Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness. Northern Health is pleased to name Peter Nielsen as this month’s Community Health Star!

Peter is a retiree who has always had a passion for helping seniors. He has created and supported several groups to address a wide range of issues impacting seniors and I had the pleasure of chatting with Peter during a rare break in between his many community engagements!

Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Group of five individuals stand in front of a sign announcing the future location of the Quesnel Seniors Housing Project.

Northern Health’s Community Health Star for the month of March is Peter Nielsen. Peter is active in seniors issues in Quesnel and has played a key role in work on a local seniors housing project.

After working in home care on Vancouver Island for several years, I returned to Quesnel (where I first moved in 1971) to be with family nearly 10 years ago.

My passion for helping seniors started at a young age. When I was 13, my family took in an older friend who needed ongoing care and I took on a lot of those caregiving tasks. I related well to this individual and have found that I relate well to all seniors. I especially enjoy hearing their amazing stories!

To pursue this passion, since moving back to Quesnel, I’ve gotten involved with the Lions Club, the Lions Housing Society, and the Fraser Village Home Society. I also started the Voice for North Cariboo Seniors.

What does a healthy community look like to you?

For me, a healthy community meets the needs of everyone. For seniors in particular, meeting their needs includes a few different considerations, and I have tried to be involved in all of these issues in Quesnel:

  • Affordable housing for seniors
  • Food security
  • The ability to make ends meet
  • Affordable medical supplies and pharmaceuticals
  • Accessible spaces
  • Social support

I think that housing and the safety and security that brings is so important for seniors’ well-being. To support that goal, I became president of the Lions Housing Society, a group working to build an independent living housing complex in Quesnel. We just purchased the land for the project and I’m excited to see construction starting soon! I also sit on the board of the Fraser Village Home Society.

Through the Lions Club, we also build ramps for seniors and others in wheelchairs. We buy the material and then have a work bee to build, paint, and secure the ramps.

Social support for seniors is crucial, too! Through a group that we formed a few years ago, we visit a residential care facility in Quesnel during the holidays to give gifts, decorate, and spend time with the residents – I was even Santa one year!

Looking ahead, I’d like to look at ways to support widowers who are struggling with loneliness and isolation. I think that a gathering place would go a long way towards making them healthier and more connected.

When it comes to seniors’ ability to meet their needs, one thing that a lot of people don’t know is that not all seniors collect a full Old Age Security pension or draw from the Canada Pension Plan. Many farmers and ranchers grew up pinching pennies and would have been living day-to-day so often didn’t contribute to government programs during their working years. Now, these individuals are struggling to make ends meet. Seniors are very proud people, too, so even in situations like this, they hesitate to ask for help. The onus is on us all to step up, check in with our older neighbours, and make sure that they are OK.

Although seniors issues take up most of my time and a special place in my heart, through the Lions, I am also able to support the Two Rivers Boxing Club in Quesnel. This local boxing club provides young people with a place to gather, be active, and develop their self-esteem. The local coach pays for a lot of expenses out-of-pocket so the Lions and I do what we can to offset the costs of tournaments, travel, and other club activities.

How did you get involved in seniors issues?

Man lifting a grocery bag out of a truck.

Peter’s message for others in northern B.C. is simple: “check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them.” After checking on some of his neighbours, Peter identified food security as an important issue facing seniors and began to make regular deliveries of healthy food to seniors in need.

It’s been a soft spot in my life, all my life! I enjoy talking to seniors; I always have. I find them very interesting and appreciate their stories. They can often be a forgotten group but I love them and I gravitate towards them.

When we moved back to Quesnel – having worked with seniors for some time – I noticed a few things in our community that were missing for seniors. My wife became my sounding board and eventually she got tired and just said “do something about it!” And I did! I created Voice for North Cariboo Seniors three years ago. This group holds monthly meetings where seniors can come together to learn about different issues. We had someone talk about taxes last month, we share information from the RCMP about scams targeting seniors, and we’ve brought in Northern Health to discuss health issues. We’ve got 150 seniors on our call list to invite to each meeting!

I’m also involved in delivering food to seniors in need. As a group, we drop off healthy food options to 50-60 seniors every month. The Lions Club and other community members support us with food donations. The focus on food started with a visit to a senior’s home where I saw only cat food in the fridge but no cat. This was so sad to witness and sparked a passion for me to look at food issues that seniors face.

One of the reasons that I got involved and have stayed involved is that seniors don’t like people knowing their plight. I have found seniors to be very proud – they’re scared of being recognized in a donation line – and often they go without instead of asking for help.

What does “healthy aging” mean to you?

For me, healthy aging means respect for seniors in all aspects. It means seniors being able to live in safe, low-cost, and healthy places. It means being aware of seniors issues since they are so often a blind spot for so many of us.

What would you like to say to other residents of northern B.C.?

It’s simple: check on your neighbours. If you know a senior, keep an eye on them. Drop off some baking and say hello! Winter can be especially difficult for seniors because of slips and falls.

And remember that often, seniors won’t come to you for help. So look out for them, keep your eyes open.

It only takes a couple of people to get something amazing started!

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who, like Peter, are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)